As servicemen returned from fighting World War II, lives that had been put on hold for the duration of the war, were taken up again. In the immediate postwar years of the 1940's the United States experienced a record number of weddings, followed by a record number of births. The "war babies" were on their way through the system. The rise in young married couples put a crimp on available housing. Even today, in Clifton and Victory Gardens, there are surviving developments of what were originally meant to be temporary veterans housing to handle the overflow. The situation was exacerbated by the G.I. Bill, which provided college tuition loans to all returning veterans of the war. This allowed a generation of men to get an education, leading to better paying jobs, and providing money for better housing.
All these conditions helped to fuel the postwar development of the New Jersey suburbs. Florham Park Borough was a small, sleepy community, incorporated in 1899, which counted only 1,609 residents in the 1940 census. But by 1950, the boom was on. In the 1950 census, Florham Park's population increased by 48% over 1940. And the 1960 census showed a startling 202% increase over 1950!
Even before the war, Catholic leaders in New Jersey had foreseen the westward and southward population expansion out of the cities. The Paterson and Camden Dioceses had formed in 1937 to help respond to that expansion. As the expansion became a reality, the Paterson Diocese began to respond with the formation of new suburban parishes. In Florham Park this movement was aided by two pivotal gentlemen: Alexander Blanchet, a member of one of the oldest Catholic families in Morris County, was mayor of the borough; and Monsignor John Dauenhauer, the Vicar General of the diocese, was pastor of St. Vncent's, Madison, the parish which covered Florham Park.
Beginning with the first Sunday of January, 1951, which was then the Feast of the Holy Family, Dauenhauer sent his associate, Father John R. O'Connel,l, to begin offering Mass in the Florham Park Roller Rink every Sunday. O'Connell was entrusted with surveying and organizing the growing Florham Park Catholics into a parish community. Because of the Roller Rink locale, the original parish families styled themselves, "the Holy Rollers." The efforts of O'Connell and the pioneers quickly bore fruit, and a church was built and dedicated on Thanksgiving morning in 1952. As soon as the church was completed, plans were set in motion for the building of a a parish school. The Sisters of Christian Charity, a teaching order with headquarters at Mendham, New Jersey were secured to staff the school.
The year 1954 was a momentous one for Holy Family. In that year, Holy Family Mission was formally advanced to parish status with Father O'Connell as first pastor. And that September, Holy Family School opened with 173 students. Sister Maronita, S.C.C., and four other Sisters of Christian Charity arrived on September 13 to begin an association with Holy Family that has lasted through the fifty years. Only the second floor bedrooms of the convent were completed when the sisters arrived, and for the first month the sisters lived, worked, and ate in the church basement, and slept in the convent upstairs. The school and convent were formally blessed by Bishop James McNulty on October 24, 1954.
As more and more young families moved into Florham Park and the borough increased in population, Holy Family School grew apace. At the school's peak in the late 1960snearly 700 children were students at Holy Family. Before the school was even d decade old, and addition, including a full auditorium was built and dedicated in November 1959. It is hard to imagine today that Holy Family School could accommodate such large numbers, but issues such as class size had not yet come to the fore in educational circles.
Inevitably, as Florham Park reached near-saturation in home construction, and as the Holy Rollers and young families of the 1960s became more mature families without grammar school children, Holy Family's student population began to plummet. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the strong community spirit in the borough and parish, the older generation remained in town. By the mid 1990s, Florham Park's three public schools had a smaller combined enrollment than Holy Family School did at its peak a quarter-century earlier. By the 2000 census, Florham Park had the oldest population in Morris
County -- the only one of 39 municipalities where the senior citizens outnumbered the school children.
The impact of declining enrollment -- fewer students than at the school's opening -- ever increasing costs, and changes in educational practice all combined to bring Holy Family School to the brink of closing by the end of the 1980s. It was Monsignor O'Connell's successor, Monsignor Paul Longua, who clearly perceived the difficulties the school faced. He convoked a special Parish Meeting on the school in January 1991, in which the school's perilous existence was openly assessed. Forced in a realistic way to face the question of the school's future, the meeting galvanized the parish on behalf of the school. Under the dynamic leadership of principals, Sister Marlene Weitzel, S.C.C. and Sister Josita Marks, S.C.C. and with the assistance of a newly-formed advisory education council, areas of concern -- educational, physical, financial -- began to be addressed, and enrollment slowly began to increase.
In the past ten years Holy Family School has undergone many changes. A capital improvement campaign conducted in 1995, allowed for many physical improvements to all the parish buildings. A science lab, computer technology, and a kindergarten playground all made their appearance in these years. A clear separation of the upper grades with departmentalized classes was introduced, as well as Pre-K and AfterCare programs, and a comprehensive extra-curricular program. In 1998, for the first time, Holy Family School successfully went through the prestigious accreditation process of the Middle States association of Schools and Colleges.
At the beginning of the 2002-2003 school year, Mr. James Duris became the first lay principal of Holy Family School, seamlessly taking up the reins from his religious predecessors, even as the Sisters of Christian Charity retained a presence in the school. Perhaps the greatest impact of the 1990 Meeting and its aftermath is the renewed realization on many different fronts that Holy Family School, like all educational institutions, is always a work-inprogress, and requires the on-going attention and dedication of people from many different areas to keep it vital and viable.
In September 2003, under the able direction of Principal James Duris, some 250 children will begin Holy Family's 50th School Year. Florham Park's demographics are once again beginning to tip in favor of Holy Family School, as younger families with children are beginning to replace the Holy Rollers in town. And increased appreciation of the values that only a Catholic School education can provide, also draws people form out of town who find that Holy Family School is the answer to their hopes and concerns for their children.
There were five parish elementary schools that opened in the Paterson Diocese on that same day in September 1954 - St. Mary's, Denville, St Philip's, Clifton, Our Lady of Mercy, Whippany, Rev. George Brown in Sparta, and Holy Family. Each has had its ups and down over the years, but today all five are still strong and vibrant and ready to celebrate their half-century of Catholic education together. During its time of transition, Holy Family School adopted the motto: "Lessons for the Head and Heart." That motto focuses the school on remaining faithful to its original purpose -- to bring the knowledge of Christ to future generations of children. With that firmly in place, Hoy Family School enters its Jubilee year with excitement, and looks forward to a bright future.